Friday, March 9, 2012

100 Movies - No. 70: Playtime

70. Playtime (1967)
Comedy, 124 minutes, French, English and German Language
Directed by Jacques Tati
Starring Jacques Tati and Barbara Dennek

There are many different types of comedy. Playtime is a combination of physical humor, farce and clever observational humor. There's very little dialogue, so don't be put off by the French, English and German language included in the description. This is all about watching a series of events and seeing the absurdity of it all.

Jacques Tati dedicated nine years of his life to the film and it was in production for three years. The sets were giant and the cast enormous. If you are familiar with Tati, you'll know that his Monsieur Hulot character appeared in four of his films and one short story. Playtime is the most celebrated, but the venture resulted in Tati declaring bankruptcy.

There isn't a plot as such, but the story opens in an airport. I think Tati was trying to show how vast and impersonal airports are. He also shows a lot of technology and demonstrates how ludicrous it is. In an early scene, he has a meeting in an office building. It's made of glass and contains dozens of identical cubicles. His arrival is logged on a computer, but the result is anything but efficient. In a comedy of errors, he keeps failing to make his presence known to the right person.

Hulot is a helpful person at heart, but everything he touches results in chaos. He improves some things and ruins others. Unlike just about every film in existence, Playtime doesn't focus on its characters. Instead of showing personal interactions, we see rooms, stores and streets filled with people. There are multiple interactions at all times. If you watch Playtime several times, you'll see something new every time.

Almost half of the film is devoted to a scene in a nightclub. It's expecting to serve 50 people, but well over a hundred turn up. The staff members desperately try to find food to serve. It's a new building and things aren't completely ready, so it's coming apart at the seams by the end of the night. Chairs break, walls collapse and wiring overheats. The guests are having too much of a good time to notice. Throughout all these events, Monsieur Hulot keeps showing up.

The final scene is set in the street and involves huge numbers of people and cars. It requires everything to be perfectly choreographed for it to work. The result looks like a living fairground with cars and the movement of people looking like a giant merry-go-round. It doesn't sound that impressive when you read the words on a screen, but you'll see how much effort went into Playtime when you watch the film.

Comedy of this nature is virtually dead.

If you like Playtime:

I mentioned that Monsieur Hulot has appeared in four films. The other three are Mr. Hulot's Holiday, Mon Oncle and Trafic.

For other observational humor of this type, you'll have to go back to Charlie Chaplin. Peter Sellers also utilized the style to some extent in the Pink Panther movies and even moreso in The Party.

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